December 14, 2017
Long practiced by Buddhists, and the bedrock of Eastern psychology, mindfulness is now knocking on the door of the West. Perhaps you’ve seen books on the theme, or read about it in the papers. It’s both challenging and exciting those who desire psychological or spiritual change in their lives; or seek to promote it in the lives of others.
Advocates believe this practice can help alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.
But it is not just a medicine for hard times. More profoundly, it’s a way of living for all, enriching every moment of our lives, whether at work, on holiday or in the bath.
It was Hafiz, the Sufi poet who said: “If you would help me, do not shine a torch on my life – but place in my hands a candle.” So let us push at some doors, and see if we can find a candle for ourselves.
Doorway 1: Stop thinking
Surprisingly, mindfulness encourages us to stop taking our thoughts seriously. It invites us to stop wandering off into the past or the future.
Instead, we stop thinking and focus on our breathing. We’re quiet, present and watch our thoughts as they arise. Soon, we become aware of the mad restlessness and capricious nature of our minds; and, in time, we begin to take our thoughts less seriously.
This is liberating, as we have been their unquestioning slave for too long. Our thoughts do not always offer us the ‘reality’ we imagine.
Doorway 2: Become the explorer
Mindfulness makes explorers of us, and like all explorers we will have to be brave if we wish to discover new lands.
Mindfulness asks a hard question of us: are you willing to experience openly what makes you unhappy?
We tend to shy away from this because the thought of it scares us. And, of course, this is why we became unhappy in the first place, because we were scared. But if we are willing to face things, we will discover a fresh knowing; virgin territory, which restores happiness. If we are not willing to face things, then, sadly, we continue to walk the same mental circles we have always walked. There is a great courage in mindfulness.
Doorway 3: Seize the moment
Mindfulness is concerned with the present; with keeping your consciousness alive to the present moment.
This may appear a simple task, but is harder than it sounds. Most of the time, our minds are either taking us back into the past or into the imaginary future. To help us to engage with the present moment, breath work is a great help; this is so because unlike our mind, our breathing is always in the present. So becoming aware of your breathing is a wonderful start to becoming present.
Doorway 4: Notice what is now
We are also helped into the present by noticing things. If we’re turning a key in a lock, we notice we are turning a key in a lock; if we’re walking down the street, we notice the shifting cloud formations or the negative feelings arising in us towards a car driver.
It’s about noticing what’s happening now. When we make a cup of tea or do the washing-up without thinking of what we are going to do next, then we are mindful. We are happier when we notice the present and let the future take care of itself.
Doorway 5: Protect the space
Add a tablespoon of salt to a glass of water and it makes a significant difference. Add the same spoon of salt to a jug of water and it makes some difference to the taste. Add it to a lake, however, and it hardly affects anything.
Mindfulness makes us larger containers. This happens as we remove from ourselves all the clutter of past and future concerns.
In the present, we have endless inner space, which is a great step towards happiness.
Difficult emotions, like salt, may remain, but their power to affect us is diffused. Previously they could ruin our day, but now they can barely ruin five minutes.
Doorway 6: Judge by results
Our judgments of others arise in direct proportion to our self-judgment. But as we allow ourselves to notice self-judgment, we also allow ourselves to be free of it.
People at peace are those who both see and accept the truth of who they are, rather than avoiding it and blaming someone else. Such people are less likely to find fault with others, which diminishes us and them and is always a waste of our time.
Doorway 7: Question the negative
We are shaped by what we do with our negative experiences. Depression, for instance, is a turning away from experience in order to avoid emotional pain. Mindfulness doesn’t stop negative thoughts or feelings, but does help us to question their believability. Are these negative feelings quite as solid as they appear? Life is all in the perception; how we perceive events.
Mindfulness practice creates in us a sense of water flowing, things passing through, rather than hard blocks of ice inside us, solid and immovable.
Doorway 8: It’s your work
No one can eat lunch for you, and no one can be mindful for you. It’s your work, and your wonder.
Doorway 9: Give up your opinions
You cannot be mindful while holding on to your opinions. That’s like trying to keep dry by jumping into the sea.
Doorway 10: Don’t censor yourself — accept yourself
As you get in touch with your breathing, thoughts will arise in you, unbidden. Don’t censor them, whatever their nature, but rather allow them all.
In accepting them, you accept yourself. If you censor emotions as they appear, they will bury themselves even deeper within you and you’ll never discover anything you didn’t know already.
If you allow everything, it may well be that you meet what is making you unhappy, but this is good.
How can you say ‘goodbye’ to it until you’ve said ‘hello’?
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